Every year brings with it monumental and historic moments in the world of sports, and 2015 was no different. The most popular sport on the planet, one commonly referred to as “the beautiful game,” was turned on its head by events that took place off of the pitch. A pair of Ultimate Fighting Championship personalities cemented their statuses as household names, while a third put herself on the map thanks to what may have been the biggest upset in the history of combat sports. Major League Baseball gave fans multiple moments to remember during what was arguably the best postseason of the year.
The National Football League is, in many ways, the king of North American professional sports, and it should come as no surprise that the NFL was responsible for one of the more bizarre moments of the sports year. Fans, analysts and observers will be discussing what took place during the final game of the 2014-15 NFL season for as long as the league and the Super Bowl exist. Mistakes happen in any walk of life, but the blunder that occurred during the closing moments of Super Bowl XLIX will go down as one of the biggest miscues to ever play out on such a massive stage.
20. New Zealand Win Rugby World Cup
New Zealand made history in 2015 when the nation became the first to win the Rugby World Cup on three separate occasions. The best side entering the tournament, New Zealand went on to cruise to a monumental victory over Australia after the Aussies did attempt to make what would have been an epic comeback. As great as the victory was for New Zealand, the sport of rugby was a big winner in 2015. The competition played out in front of worldwide audiences, and it helped make rugby a talking point among some who had never before gone out of the way to watch the sport.
19. Barcelona Rein
Nobody will ever claim that the 2015 Champions League Final including Barcelona and Juventus was one of the greatest matches in history. Neymar putting Juventus away for good with a late goal not only clinched Barca the treble. It was also a sign of what was to come from the young Brazilian superstar, who was maybe the world’s best overall player during the second half of the calendar year. While Real Madrid are beginning 2016 (reportedly) making a change at the manager position, Barcelona are starting out the year as the top club in the world.
18. Rousey Destroys Correia
Everything about the UFC 190 encounter involving Ronda Rousey and Bethe Correia was awesome for fans. Both Rousey and Correia cut incredible promos that made you want to see them battle it out inside of the cage. Customers got what they paid for and them some on fight night, as Rousey knocked Correia out in 34 seconds. Rousey, used to having the last word, then famously told the beaten Correia “don’t cry” after the bout, a fitting conclusion to a storyline that could have been staged by World Wrestling Entertainment. The UFC will be hoping that Rousey can make for even better television in 2016.
17. Falcons Runs Panthers’ Undefeated Bid
The Carolina Panthers were seemingly headed to an undefeated regular season record after surviving a scare from the New York Giants in December. Nobody told the Atlanta Falcons that they were supposed to be just a playoff warm-up for the Panthers, though, as Atlanta gave home fans something to cheer about when the two sides met up in Week 16. Carolina’s run of 14 straight victories came to an end, and members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins were able to celebrate the fact that another NFL season would end without a team remaining undefeated up through Super Bowl Sunday.
16. Noah Syndergaard Angers Royals
The Kansas City Royals would have the last laugh over the New York Mets – more on that later – but New York ace Noah Syndergaard became a hero of those who follow the Mets at the start of Game 3 of the World Series. Syndergaard expected leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar to swing at the first pitch, so the flame-throwing right-hander hurled a fastball over Escobar’s head. If that was not enough to earn Syndergaard the adoration of fans, the young potential ace referred to as “Thor” later challenged the Royals to meet him on the mound if they had a problem with the way that he pitched. “Old School Baseball” is alive and well.
15. Ohio State Wins Playoff
Those convinced that the SEC would forever remain the superior conference in college football could do nothing but sit and watch as Ohio State won the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship. The Buckeyes took care of Alabama at the Sugar Bowl, and Ohio State then rolled over an Oregon side that was, to put it bluntly, over-matched when playing against the country’s best team. While Ohio State was not in it to win it on the final day of 2015, the Buckeyes have shown that they can consistently hang with the best that the SEC has to offer. OSU should watch out, though, as Michigan is (finally) recovering.
14. Aaron Hernandez Found Guilty
It was a fall from grace that will likely never make all that much sense. Aaron Hernandez went from being one of the best tight ends in the NFL and a young man set to earn at least $40 million from a contract to a criminal convicted of murdering at least one person. Hernandez being found guilty of first degree murder will not even serve as the final act, as he is facing two additional murder chargers that stem from a different case. That the New England Patriots have never had to explain how the team unknowingly had a sociopath on the roster is, at the very least, interesting.
13. McGregor Beats Aldo
Both Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo had plenty to say leading up to their UFC Featherweight Championship unification bout in December. McGregor let his left hand do all the talking on the night of the fight, as he knocked Aldo out in 13 seconds to leave no doubt that he was the best fighter in the division. In McGregor, the UFC has a showman who can sell fights and who can walk the walk that matches his talk. The UFC lost Brock Lesnar to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2015, but the company has a legitimate superstar in McGregor.
12. Kobe Says Goodbye
Yes, even those of us who have delighted in watching Kobe Bryant play in the NBA would have to admit that he should have announced his retirement years ago. With that said, Bryant informing the world that the 2015-16 season will be his last as a professional player made for an emotional moment. Bryant was, when at his best, one of the greatest players of his generation, doing just about all that he could to match the hype that came with being labeled as the “next” Michael Jordan. Here is hoping that Bryant has a few more great moments to cap off his historic and legendary career.
11. Kentucky Loses to Wisconsin
We may never see a college basketball team complete an undefeated season. That was the biggest takeaway coming out of the 2015 Final Four. Kentucky was, for the majority of the campaign, an unbeatable juggernaut that some fans compared to lackluster NBA teams because of how the Wildcats dominated opponents. Kentucky’s run toward history hit a brick wall when the Wildcats faced Wisconsin in front of a worldwide audience, as the Badgers caught fire at the right time and pulled off the upset. The debate on whether or not Kentucky should have phoned in a regular season game instead of entering the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record will continue.
10. Royals Win World Series
The 2015 MLB Postseason gave even casual fans maybe the best sports month of the year. Topping it off was the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets meeting in a World Series that featured Kansas City completing comeback after comeback, most notably in Game 5. The final game of the Fall Classic went into extra innings and deep into the New York night before the Royals blew the contest open in front of an audience that was left in silence as Kansas City danced on the Citi Field lawn. A group of young pitchers should have the Mets in contention in 2016, but the fall of 2015 belonged to the Royals.
9. You Like That!
Maybe even Kirk Cousins himself could not have imagined the rise that he would experience in 2015. Cousins went from being just a guy on the roster of the Washington Redskins to the team’s starting quarterback, and Cousins eventually showed that he had the goods to help guide the Redskins to a postseason berth. The most emphatic moment of Cousins’ NFL career, to date, occurred in October when he unleashed a “You like that!” to reporters after the Redskins had notched a win. Those three words would become a mantra for what became the best team in all of the NFC East.
8. Serena Slammed
One could not have been blamed for assuming that Serena Williams would breeze past somebody named Roberta Vinci before completing a Grand Slam run. A funny thing happened, though, as Vinci refused to roll over and play dead at the U.S. Open. Williams winning the first set did not deter Vinci, as the underdog rallied back from behind and stunned the greatest women’s tennis player in history and also customers who had already plopped down money to see Williams compete in the Final. Vinci defeating Williams was one of the biggest upsets in professional tennis history.
7. American Pharoah Wins Triple Crown
Critics can say whatever they want about horse racing. Those people cannot deny that there is something special about the Triple Crown that grabs the attention of a nation that, for the majority of the year, ignores the sport. American Pharoah became a horse for the ages when he left the competition in his dust and won the Triple Crown with ease. Pharoah then rode off into the sunset before the end of 2015, leaving behind a legacy that will have him placed alongside the greatest horses to ever compete. His three major victories in 2015 will be replayed whenever a different horse flirts with completing the Triple Crown.
6. Jordan Spieth Dominates Augusta
All that was left to be learned in the final minutes of the 2015 edition of the Masters was whether or not Jordan Spieth would make history and become the first man to close out the tournament at 19-under. Spieth did not achieve that feat, but he nevertheless won the Masters in impressive fashion. That win, which was followed up by Spieth notching a victory at the U.S. Open, helped make the 22-year-old the face of the PGA and the next great hope for a sport that needs a young superstar. Spieth will probably not be Tiger Woods, but he is a reason for casual fans to tune in and watch tournaments.
5. Steph Curry Crushes New Orleans
2015 was the year when Stephen Curry became a phenomenon, a Most Valuable Player and maybe the most popular basketball personality in the world. Curry’s best moment – and there were many contenders – occurred in Game 3 of the playoff series involving the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans. Curry and the Warriors rallied back from 20 points down, and the comeback was completed when Curry drained a three-pointer that nearly broke the Internet because the shot was so remarkable. We all probably should have known on that night that the Warriors were destined to win a title.
4. Seventh Inning of ALDS
The seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series involving the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays was must-see television. A controversial run was scored. Fans threw items onto the field. There was a comeback that was highlighted by one of the greatest bat flips you will ever see while watching a professional game. Thanks to the wonder that is the Internet, baseball fans will be able to relive this inning time and time again. That inning, which took nearly an hour to complete, was playoff baseball at its finest, and it offered a reminder that baseball can still, if only for a time, be the most popular sport in the United States.
3. Holly Holm Shocks the World
Perhaps Holly Holm had the perfect game plan to defeat the previously unbeaten Ronda Rousey. Maybe Rousey was too focused on matters outside of UFC and looking past Holm. Whatever occurred leading up to the encounter featuring the two combatants, Holm left no doubt when she thoroughly dominated Rousey en route to winning the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship in November. Holm will again be in the news in 2016 as she prepares to defend her title in a rematch versus Rousey. Is Holm a one-hit wonder, or will she show that she is now the new “baddest woman on the planet?”
2. Seahawks Pass
Has there ever been a single NFL play more scrutinized than the one that occurred in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX? The Seattle Seahawks were seemingly a yard away from winning a second straight championship when quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass instead of handing the ball off or trying to enter the end zone on his own. The pass was intercepted by the New England Patriots, and Tom Brady and company secured yet another title. While the Seahawks may remain contenders to win a Super Bowl for years to come, that one mistake will live on in the memories of all who watched the play unfold.
1. FIFA Arrests
An investigation led by the United States. Promises that sweeping changes were coming. What evolved into one of the biggest stories of the sports year started out as a moment that surprised observers from all around the world, one that involved FIFA officials being placed under arrest on corruption charges. The perception that FIFA is filled with individuals who care more about the contents of their wallets than they care about the state of world football has existed since about the day before forever. That some of those people may have to answer for their actions will hopefully represent a change for the better for the sport that is beloved by millions upon millions of fans.